A lot has been happening this past week here at Big Joe’s Soap Box with the TD Bank 5 Boro Bike Tour. Most of what has happened I will write about in a future post. Some of it has been trying to get all the logistics ironed out. Most importantly, I realized just how soon this event would be happening. I have about 55 days until the Tour takes place. 55 days! I registered in January and the ride felt like something that would happen at some point in the distant future, a feeling reinforced by the miserable winter that just won’t seem to move into spring. Even a couple of weeks ago I was looking out at freshly fallen snow and the last thing on my mind was riding over 40 miles in New York City.
This past week I have had the pleasure of meeting Patty Chang Anker in cyberspace. She has written an amazing book, titled Some Nerve, which is about facing and overcoming your fears. She also writes for the Bike New York blog Biking the Big Apple and at her own blog Facing Forty Upside Down. I read a few of her posts at Bike New York and it made me realize that May 5th was closer than I have been thinking. It is time I start taking this a little more seriously!
Last year was a different story. I was very nervous about the 5 Boro Tour, and I was very serious. I wasn’t sure I was physically ready to ride 40 miles. I had never really ridden that far and I was riding with someone who, while not a regular rider, was still more ready than I felt. We trained and rode together once or twice to get ready, but when the day of the ride dawned I was still nervous about finishing. This year is completely different. While I have not had the most successful winter I am already back to my lowest weight of last year. I am a full 30 pounds under the weight that I rode last year’s Tour. Thanks to my wife’s constant support I have been running at the gym and my average speed on my trainer is up a full mile per hour, a big step after being stuck at the same speed for so long. Cross training is working wonders for me. This year I feel much more physically prepared. All I need is for the endless winter to finally move on from New England to start putting on some base miles and I will feel prepared.
Patty asked if I had any advice and I just couldn’t put it into a sentence or paragraph so I thought I would talk about it here. I think that the advice goes past the 5 Boro Tour and really extends to any longer distance ride attempted by a beginner like I was last year.
1. Pack a spare everything. Well, maybe not everything, but be prepared. Have an extra tube, tire levers, water bottles, snack bars, gels, multi-tool, pump, spare money, and anything else you can fit in your seat bag and jersey pockets. Normally I would say to not go overboard, but I have found that when you first start riding for distance there is something calming about knowing you have the tools to fix anything that might go wrong. Whatever you are preparing for probably won’t happen, but I felt better knowing that I could fix it if it did.
2. Wear the right clothing. I can’t stress this enough, wear spandex. If you are too self-conscious to wear spandex, wear it under other clothes. There are plenty of manufacturers of liners that have chamois sewn into them that you can wear under regular shorts. You might not appreciate the extra padding on a ten mile ride, but you will on a 40 mile one. Wear layers if you are going to be riding in early spring on a ride like the TD 5 Boro Tour. I can remember standing on the street in lower Manhattan praying for the start of the ride because I didn’t bring a cycling jacket. I was afraid that I wouldn’t need it, so of course I did. You can always ditch the outer layer and put it in a bag or in a jersey pocket.
3. Know a little about how to ride in a large group. I don’t mean that you have to know how to ride a pace line or how to function in a pro style peloton, but know a little about how cyclist talk to each other. Call out to a cyclist if you are passing on the left with a cheery “On your left!” or point out a road hazard with “Bottle on the right” and point to it as you ride by. Calling out your intention and signaling when you can is key in keeping everyone safe. No one will be able to see that far in front of them, so any warning is welcome. Don’t worry about knowing all of the calls or commands; you will pick them up during the ride. Just being vocal will endear you to other cyclists.
4. Train. Take the distance seriously. A longer ride can catch people out who don’t understand how far 40 miles can be. Start by riding five or ten miles at a time and slowly work your way up to at least three quarters of the distance. At that point you will be ready for you distance ride. Matt and I felt ready once we could ride 30 miles on a gravel rail trail. We knew that we could handle 40 miles of pavement after that. At the same time, distance isn’t as daunting if you break down the ride to just riding between support areas. There are so many on the TD 5 Boro Tour that you rarely ride more than 10 miles until you get to either a full support area or one of the many mini-support areas where there are live bands, water, and porta potties. Basically, if you can ride five miles you can ride the Tour.
5. Go at your own pace. This goes hand in hand with the previous section, but you have to ride your own ride. There will be people faster than you and slower that you. Most of the Tour is spent passing and being passed. It is very easy to fall into a group of riders that might be going just a little bit faster than you. You can keep up with them for a while, but if you push too hard too early you will pay for it at the end. There is no prize for finishing first, but there will be amazing sites to see along the way. Ride at your own pace and enjoy the day.
6. Bring friends. Ride together. My first TD 5 Boro Bike Tour was fun because I rode with a great friend. We talked the whole time and motivated each other when we needed it. We joked and laughed the whole time and made some new friends. Along with this, wear clothing that helps you stand out and identifies you as part of your group. Matt and I didn’t understand what 30,000 people looked like until we were trying to find each other in the mass of riders. We noticed that a lot of groups had matching shirts or complete costumes so they could pick each other out in a crowd.
7. Relax. Seriously, just relax. If you have followed the other suggestions you will be warm, prepared, and amongst friends for most of what can happen so relax and have fun. No matter what you think might happen, have fun. Live in the moment and ride like a ten year old. Enjoy the hills and the sights and all of the amazing people you will meet. The right attitude goes a very long way. In a large group ride, other riders will be looking out for you and will offer help if you need it. Your only jobs are to have a great time and look out for your fellow riders just like they look out for you.